Below is a list (ranked in order) of some of the top American sports flicks over the last several decades.
10. Space Jam (1996)
What better collaboration took place in film during the ‘90s than the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes on the cult classic, Space Jam?
The short answer, none.
Like a certain Adam Sander sports flick one peg higher on this list, Space Jam was a film critics loved to hate but one fans of basketball and classic Saturday morning cartoons alike embraced with open arms.
The outlandish premise of aliens stealing the talents of NBA greats including Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues in order to beat the Looney Tunes in a game of basketball in hopes of forcing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and friends into working as outer space amusement park attractions, only to lose on a Sports Center worthy buzzer-beater by M.J. (assisted by the great Bill Murray on the floor) is as out in left field as it is wonderful.
Lebron James’ upcoming take on the sequel may turn out to be great in its own right, but as in real life, King James will likely never match Jordan’s stint alongside the Looney Tunes.
9. Happy Gilmore (1996)
As someone who has long held Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison days in regard as his best work, one of the actor’s early comedy sports flicks was bound to make this list.
A failed hockey player with a slap-shot style swing that rivals Uncle Rico’s football cannon toss over the nearest mountain range, Gilmore uses his unorthodox talents to win cash prizes at pro golf tournaments in hopes of saving his grandmother’s house, which has been repossessed by the IRS and is in line to be sold at auction.
An obviously stark contrast to the gentleman-like nature of golf, Sandler’s Gilmore does everything from getting into a fistfight with Bob Barker (one Gilmore lost) at a pro-am celebrity tournament, to wrestling back a lost ball from an alligator occupying a course pond, all of which built the hot-headed Gilmore a rowdy fan base usually seen at WWE title fights, not the green.
8. Bad News Bears (1976)
There are athletes with dreams of playing at the collegiate level and beyond who start meticulously honing their skills from a young age, and then there are the uninterested young troublemakers in Bad News Bears.
Led by drunkard ex professional baseball player Morris Buttermaker, brought to life by an exceptional performance from actor Walter Matthau, Bad News Bears tells the story of a little league team short on skill but big on attitude, a unit full of outsiders and social rejects who ultimately did not find glory in a championship game, but did find strength at the end of the film in each other.
As high-profile and glamorous as high school and college sports have become, Bad News Bears tells an equally relatable story, just a different one to a different audience.
7. Moneyball (2011)
Millions of dollars in salary are thrown around each year in essentially every professional sport out there.
Moneyball, which is based on a true story regarding the Oakland Athletics’ unique financial approach to team building, one primarily centered around analytics as opposed to scouts’ insight, proved less about the game itself and more a behind the scenes look at MLB team building, something which gave viewers a fresh perspective they had perhaps not previously considered.
While a headlining tandem of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill might have sounded odd prior to the film’s release, Pitt’s take as Oakland GM Billy Beane and Hill’s performance as Yale economics graduate Peter Brand proved a compelling watch, one which took an in-depth look at the challenges of piecing together a contender.
6. Gridiron Gang (2006)
Following the story of a ragtag prison football team headed by Head Coach Sean Porter (Dwayne The Rock Johnson), Gridiron Gang plays on themes of redemption and hope for individuals locked in a vicious cycle of crime and violence, with Porter looking to show his players what it means to take a different path in life.
While not everyone will agree with giving convicted criminals opportunities such as the chance to play football, the film works well reinforcing the perspective that even those who have hurt themselves and those around them with poor past choices are not all lost.
5. Remember the Titans (2000)
An unadulterated look at racial tensions in early 1970’s America, put into focus against the backdrop of a high school football team at an integrated school, Remember the Titans delivers a tough but fair reflection of racial discrimination as well as the efforts of players and coaches of both black and white descent to come together for something bigger than personally-held prejudices.
Despite those within the administration of Virginia’s T. C. Williams High School desperate for Head Coach Herman Boone (played by Hollywood heavyweight Denzel Washington) and his Titans to fail, the team perseveres en route to a championship and newfound sense of brotherhood.
4. Field of Dreams (1989)
What is there to say about the Kevin Costner-led American cult classic that has not already been voiced?
A story filled with heart, pain, love, loss and redemption of sorts, all against the backdrop of a baseball field built on part of a cornfield, Field of Dreams harkens back to a time in American history when baseball was synonymous with the country’s heartbeat itself.
Costner’s Ray Kinsella may have been ridiculed and mocked by those around him regarding the ‘voices’ telling him to build a field, but the sense of peace brought on by the film’s conclusion makes all of Kinsella’s efforts worth the trouble, while proving a tearjerker for audiences.
3. We Are Marshall (2006)
Devastated by a plane crash which killed 75 players, coaches and other team personnel, Marshall University looks to pick up the pieces in a rebuilding effort, not just of the institution’s football team, but of its very soul weighed down by the tragedy in this uplifting flick headlined by Matthew McConaughey, who plays Head Coach Jack Lengyel.
2. Cinderella Man (2005)
While not on the same standing as the boxing film holding the No. 1 spot on this list, Cinderella Man, which follows the story southpaw Irish-American boxer James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe), who returns to the ring from retirement out of desperation to provide for his family which is working to survive in an America gripped by the Great Depression, provides an inspiring tale of grit, courage and determination overcoming all in the face of daunting obstacles.
Consistently dubbed the underdog in each of his fights, Crowe’s Braddock refuses to give into fear or self doubt, eventually claiming the heavyweight title, in a way shouldering the hopes of Americans everywhere at the time yearning for returned prosperity and greatness.
1. Rocky (1976)
The be-all, end-all sports flick on this list.
While the five sequels spanning 1979-2006 may have seemingly flatlined the series before the 2015 reboot/sequel ‘Creed’ breathed new life into it, Sylvester Stallone’s original portrayal of Rocky Balboa, a tired soul with a kind heart trying to make his way as a loan shark collector and small-time boxer in 1970s Philadelphia was nothing short of spectacular.
While the plot’s rag-to-riches storyline may be derided by critics for being formulaic, the heart Stallone put into his underdog character made such critiques a moot point, as Rocky Balboa became a character anyone with a dream and the willingness to risk failure in pursuit of said dream could look to and rally behind.
Five out of five stars for one’s viewing pleasure any day of the week.